Geology and ground water in Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Napa and Sonoma Counties, California

Water Supply Paper 1495




Napa and Sonoma Valleys are adjacent alluvium-filled valleys about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. They occupy alined and structurally controlled depressions in the northern Coast Ranges physiographic province and drain south into San Pablo Bay. The valleys are surrounded and underlain by unconsolidated marine and continental sediments and volcanic rocks of Pliocene and Pleistocene age, which are water bearing in large part and together make up relatively extensive ground-water basins. Napa Valley, the eastern valley, is the larger and has a valley-floor area of about 85 square miles. Sonoma Valley has a valley-floor area of about 35 square miles; in addition, about 10 square miles is unreclaimed tidal marsh. The rock units of Napa and Sonoma Valleys are divided into four classes on the basis of their distribution and relative capacity to yield water: (a) Consolidated virtually non-water-bearing chiefly sedimentary (some metamorphic) rocks that range in age from Jurassic ( ?) to Pliocene; (b) marine shale and sand of the Petaluma formation (Pliocene) and the Merced formation (Pliocene and Pleistocene) that do not crop out within Napa or Sonoma Valleys but perhaps are penetrated by some deep wells drilled in Sonoma Valley; (c) Sonoma volcanics of Pliocene age, parts of which are non-water-bearing and parts of which locally yield large quantities of water; and (d) unconsolidated alluvial deposits mainly of Quaternary age. The deposits of classes (c) and (d) contain the most important aquifers in the area. Most of the water used in these valleys is pumped from wells in the younger and older alluvium in the Huichica and Glen Ellen formations. and in the Sonoma volcanics. The principal aquifers are the younger and older alluvium. but appreciable quantities of water are pumped locally from the Sonoma volcanics. The Huichica and Glen Ellen formations yield water in small quantities and at most places supply water only for limited domestic uses. The younger alluvium COIM3ists of interbedded deposits of unconsolidated gravel. sand, silt. and. locally, peat. These deposits underlie the flood plains and channels of the Napa River. Sonoma Creek, and their tributaries, low alluvial fans or plains graded to these streams. and the tidal marshlands. The older alluvium of Napa and Sonoma Valleys is composed of lenticular deposits of unconsolidated and poorly sorted clay, silt. sand. and gravel. Where exposed, claypan or hardpan soil is characteristically developed at the surface. The Huichica formation is composed of deformed continental beds consisting mostly of yellow silt with some interbedded lenses of silt and gravel, and silt and boulders. At the base are beds of redeposited volcanic material, silt, clay, and lenses of coarse gravel and boulders. The Glen Ellen fcrmation consists of alluvial clay, silt, sand, and gravel in clearly stratified but generally lenticular beds. The Sonoma volcanics constitute a thick and highly variate series of continental volcanic rocks, including andesite, basalt, and minor rhyolite flows and interbedded coarse- to fine-grained pyroclastic tuff and breccia, redeposited tuff and pumice, and diatomaceous mud, silt, and sand. A prominent body of rhyolite flows and tuff with some obsidian and perlitic glass, called the St. Helena rhyolite member, occurs in the upper part. Estimated ground-water pumpage for all uses in the year 1949-50 was about 5,600 acre-feet in Napa Valley and about 2,400 acre-feet in Sonoma Valley. Of this quantity the amounts pumped for irrigation were about 2,900 and 1,900 acre-feet, respectively. Water levels in wells in the central parts of the valleys range from a few feet above the land surface to about 50 feet below, with an average of about 25 feet. The quality of the water in most wells is satisfactory for domestic use and irrigation. Locally at the southern end of the valley some contamination of the native waters is caused by the movement of salty wate

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geology and ground water in Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Napa and Sonoma Counties, California
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. G.P.O.,
v, 252 p. :ill., maps ;24 cm.